Blueberry crops across the Eastern Fraser Valley were covered in ice after December’s freezing rain, which could damage production for 2018. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Ice could prove damaging to Chilliwack berry, tree fruit production

UFV professor studying winter’s effect on blueberry crops

Late 2017’s snow and ice was an inconvenience for just about everyone in Chilliwack, but for berry growers, and fruit and ornamental tree farmers, it could be costly.

Over a 48-hour period, two freezing rain events led to a total of 27.4 millimetres (mm) of ice accretion, according to Roger Pannett, Chilliwack’s volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada.

That’s even more than the severe ice event overnight Feb. 8 last year (25.6 mm) that led to severe tree damage, even greenhouse collapses.

• READ MORE: Cleanup from ice storm and downed trees continues across Chilliwack

• READ MORE: More than 100 trees came down after Chilliwack ice storm

University of the Fraser Valley agriculture professor Tom Baumann said the early winter weather can’t be good for farmers, although so far he has had no reports of serious damage.

Baumann is doing a government-sponsored study on the effect of the winter on blueberry and cranberry crops.

“I collected the ‘before winter’ samples on the day before the ice and snow happened, so in March I go out again to sample and I can tell how much fruit we lost over winter,” Baumann said.

Even this measurement won’t take into account what happens after that, such as spring frosts and heavy rains.

“Also, we can’t really access fields well right now, even for pruning, so those still needing pruning will have to wait until this all dissolves into a mess again,” he said.

By mid-week blueberry crops, as well as all trees in the Fraser Valley, including fruit trees, cedar hedges, and other ornamentals were covered in a layer of ice. The melt did begin Wednesday, which is the good news, according to Baumann.

The lack of wind is another bit of good news as that could have caused serious damage to branches coated in ice.

“We did not get the promised strong outflow winds, again, another very positive thing, especially for raspberries,” Baumann said. “The strawberries were nicely tucked under that first snow fall, so I am hoping they were completely unscathed.”

Hobby farmers and backyard gardeners may have already noticed some breakage due to ice accretion but Baumann doesn’t recommend shaking or hitting the branches until the ice melts off naturally.

“Then repair, prune, stake or do whatever seems right to do,” he said.

With rain in the forecast, there could be more bad news for perennials with “tons of water sitting on our fields,” something that can stifle growth as the roots need oxygen.

“Looking around my own property, I see far less damage than in 2016/17 ice storms,” Baumann said. “Let’s hope this was the last one for this winter.”

• RELATED: PHOTOS: Ice storm in Chilliwack a year ago


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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